I took my son recently to buy some football boots. This is usually a bonding thing for a father and son to do, just like passing on the baton of sport in a "my-time-has-gone-now- its-your-time-son" sort of way. When I did it with my dad, we when to Woolworth's and bought of pair of own-brand Winfield's which, if you ran fast enough – and it was muddy – looked almost like adidas boots from a distance.
They were black with white stripes... too many white stripes, but white stripes, nevertheless. This time I took my son to a sports shop, although "sport" is perhaps a stretch, because if we had gone in asking for sporting equipment that did not involve tracksuits, hoodies, trainers or the odd pair of football boots, we would have been sorely disappointed. Where do you go to buy a pole-vault pole these days?
I sat there as my son decided that the best boots in the shop were the orange ones. I am not talking "a hint of orange". I am talking fluorescent orange that you wear to be seen in the dark from space. I thought they looked ridiculous, but as I think this most of the time, I was about to concede that it was a generational thing and I should just buy them when something stopped me. These were to be used to play football, not go to a disco; these were to be worn to play our national game. My heart sank. What has happened to the man's game that I was brought up on? My son stood wearing giant Wotsits on his feet and I realised we have allowed football to become fashion and as such we have lost something of what made it great.
George Best was the first player to be identified as a fashion icon when he was called the fifth Beatle after Manchester United had played Benfica in the 1965 European Cup, yet he shared a dressing room with proper men, like Bobby Charlton, who managed to be one of England's greatest ever footballers while sporting a hairstyle that made it look like he had driven a van to the match and was going to finish decorating the box room when he got home. Yet today it seems to be a good footballer you seem to need to dress like a reject from a boyband.
I'm not suggesting this is a new phenomenon. I support Liverpool and as a club we have a lot to be proud of, but when it comes to fashion we must hang our head in shame. There was a time in the late seventies and eighties when a Liverpool side would have more permed hair in it than you would find on a pensioners' bus trip to Blackpool. This included men like Graham Souness, one of the toughest midfielders our club has known but who would sit in the dressing room with rollers in. How can anyone still be hard after having rollers in?
Footballers now try to be hard off the pitch by having more tattoos than you normally find on the man who runs the waltzers at fair grounds. Perhaps this is another fashion led by David Beckham who, above every other modern footballer, has become a fashion icon.
Nobody can criticise Beckham's ability as a player or his good looks, but is it right for a professional footballer to have had more hairstyles than Lady Gaga?
He is currently fronting an advertising campaign for underpants. This is a married man in his thirties with four children – he should have long given up being bothered what underpants he puts on like the rest of us, let alone having billboards showing them to the world.
So as my son looked at me with eyes full of anticipation, I decided I had to make a stand and instead of his choice, he went home with a long face and a pair of black boots. My wife said I should have let him pick his own boots, but if parents don't start changing things, who will? Besides, when he first wore them he scored, so perhaps there is something to be said for tradition... although he has asked for a set of rollers for his birthday...
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